By Scott Robertson
Following months of detail work by a Reapportionment Committee consisting of representatives from each of the current 10 county commission districts, a new county map with 15 commission districts is ready for consideration by the full county commission. A full size version of the map can be downloaded here. The call for redistricting came from voters during the last election cycle, when several incumbents were ousted in favor of candidates who pledged to shrink the size of the commission. The current 10 districts are served by 25 commissioners, with some districts having as many as three commissioners while others have as few as one. The new map is comprised of 15 districts, each of which will be served by only one commissioner.
The committee, chaired by Commissioner Joe Grandy, met Thursday spending roughly 90 minutes doing detail work, moving small segments of land from one district to another in order to make the deviation in population between districts as small as possible. The deviation between the largest and smallest districts currently stands near 10 percent. At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting the deviation was 2.7 percent. By the time the map was ready to send to the full commission, the deviation was down to 2.39 percent.
The largest proposed district is District 3, which includes the entire town of Jonesborough, in addition to land north, south and west of the town. District 3 has a population of 8,286. The smallest district is District 1, with a population of 8,095. It encompasses the northwest corner of the county, from Fall Branch east to State Highway 81 and south to Highway 11E.
Another significant goal of the committee was to attempt to draw the districts so that neither city (Jonesborough/Johnson City) nor rural (county residents not living in either Johnson City or Jonesborough) districts would outnumber each other. Many political disagreements in the county arise along the lines of rural vs. city interests, in large part due to tax revenue splits and education funding. The population breakdown of the county is 46.23 percent rural and 54.77 percent city.
The ideal would have been to have five districts that were entirely rural, five that were entirely city, and five with a near equal mix, but the constraints of making the districts fit the total population deviations made that a practical impossibility.
In the end, the committee came up with a map that has three completely rural districts, three completely city districts, and the rest mixed, with the city having a slightly larger weight in the mixed districts, just as the city population is slightly larger than the rural population.
Districts 1,2 and 4 are 100 percent rural. Districts 9, 10 and 11 are 100 percent city. The other districts are mixed. The most heavily rural are District 5 at 97.21 percent, District 15 at 88.12 percent and District 6 at 73.02 percent rural. The most heavily weighted to city residence are District 12 at 98.4 percent, District 7 at 97.5 percent and District 8 at 78.57 percent. The other mixed districts fall between those extremes.
Looking back at the process, Grandy seemed satisfied the committee had met its mandate in sending the map on to the commission. “Our objectives were, first, to reduce deviation so that the representation of the population is more balanced – our goal was not to exceed 4 percent; second, to try to achieve balance in commission representation between city, town and county; and lastly, wherever possible to keep identified communities intact.”
In order to minimize the chances of appearance of bias in any one direction, the committee asked the state comptroller’s office to create the initial map from which all modifications were made. The introduction of the comptroller’s office into the process also worked to address concerns the county might be acting outside its legal scope of operations by addressing redistricting outside the regular 10-year census period.
With the unanimous approval of the committee members in attendance Thursday, the map is now slated to go before the full commission for consideration at the Nov. 23 meeting.